You May Just be Surprised…
Even if you are fairly new to anime, you have likely heard somebody caution you against watching today’s anime of focus, School Days. However, I’ve been a big advocate of not always taking things at face value, and if you’ll humor me for the remainder of this article, I think I may just be able to convince you to give School Days the time of day.
Origins & Understanding
Before I actually get to talking about why I think School Days is worth your time, I need to talk about the 2005 visual novel of the same title. Compared to what you likely envision for a typical visual novel, School Days did a few things that were fairly unique at the time. These included:
- Fully animated segments which were also voiced for the entirety of the game, which is more akin to an interactive anime.
- Much like Higurashi, the bad endings are more emphasized than the good. The game constantly encourages you to make poor choices by presenting obviously bad options to alter the story with. The game would become fairly known for this as a result.
- The game seemed to be hyper-critical of the harem genre, which are not all that uncommon in the visual novel space. Many would even argue that it’s a deconstruction in this regard.
While the first point is of little consequence when it comes to discussing the anime adaptation, the second and third points are critical to understanding what School Days actually is. I ask you keep these in mind as we transition to discussing the anime itself.
The Importance of Presentation
Compared to other anime that came out in 2007, School Days is clearly not the the greatest when it comes to its art. Just compare it to some titles that came out around the same time and you’d think this was a much older anime than it actually is. The series’ looks are simple, not very attractive, and altogether mundane. At a glance, it would be easy to write this off as a detriment to the anime, but it actually ends up being one of its biggest strengths.
The unassuming look that School Days has going for it results in a show that feels grounded. Compare this to how anime usually looks, with fairly attractive designs or hyper-stylized visuals, and it isn’t difficult to see that this series is aiming more for realism than anything else. All of it from hair color to proportions on characters, even Kotonoha’s large breasts aren’t impossible, but that’s the only element that I could even think to question when it comes to this line of thinking.
For some, this is going to result in the unintended consequence of having some characters look fairly similar to others. This isn’t something I had an issue with, but after having discussed the series for weeks with others for my #AniTwitWatches series, it was a fairly common complaint.
What is gained, however, is far more valuable. It gives the story an air of credence, as if to say that the events you are watching unfold could happen. Naturally, School Days does exaggerate things, this is a story first and foremost that should be entertaining, but by decreasing the amount you may need to suspend your disbelief makes it easier for the anime to get you emotionally invested.
The other thing this does is disarm the viewer. Things look and feel normal, so unless you are privy to where things go in the series, you shouldn’t be on edge about anything. For all extents and purposes, School Days looks to be a fairly average, if not sub-par harem anime that features some light comedy, but nothing more serious than what you’d typically expect.
However, this isn’t everything that goes into presentation. You have to keep in mind the sound and overall direction, which is constantly trying to warn the viewer that things may not be as they seem. While subtly is not really this series’ strong point, I’d almost liken it to what School-Live! achieves, even if that show is far superior at this kind of thing than School Days dreams of being.
Unique camera angles, lighting, and discordant score are all used to full effect multiple times throughout the 12 episodes. Some shots are almost painterly in quality, while others are unsettling for reasons that are not always immediately clear. Then you have those scenes with the diametrically opposed music. Most interestingly is the “date scene” early into the series where you can see a date is obviously not going well but the music would have you believe otherwise.
This all culminates in a sense that something is just a bit off about the series. What helps mask everything further is that each episode is shown through the lens of one or more characters, sometimes jumping between a few multiple times in a singular episode. Makoto, our male lead, is a fairly average horny teenager, so when he’s our lens to view the world, things are simple, sexy, and more in line with what you may expect from the harem genre.
To that end, other characters present more complex views of the world, even casting doubt or suspicion onto otherwise innocuous events. It’s a smart move on the part of the show because they are very easy to overlook outside of taking a retrospective look when everything comes to a head. This allows for a more complex viewing experience that, if given more attention beyond a cursory emotional reaction, reveals a fair amount of depth and thought that was put into School Days.
Soap Opera Structure & Subverted Expectations
Watching School Days is kind of like watching a train wreck in motion. It may make you want to look away, you may even feel sick, but ultimately, it demands your attention. The series accomplishes this by employing a fairly common tactic: cliffhangers.
This is why I compare the anime to something like a soap opera where you see this sort of thing a lot. Especially when it comes to human dramas involving relationships and hidden information, a key component of School Days.
You won’t have to look far to get what I mean when it comes to this series either. Starting episode one all the way up to the end, each episode drops a metaphorical bombshell that either reframes previous events or escalates some existing plot. To demonstrate what I mean, let’s look at the first episode.
Starting out, the show is fairly straight-forward. Makoto likes a girl named Kotonoha, but he’s just not confident to really do anything about it. He’s content to just admire from afar. That is, until his classmate Sekai decides she’ll help him out. Surprisingly, it works out! Makoto and Kotonoha become a couple, which is great… right?
This is where the complication comes in: Sekai kisses Makoto at the end of the episode.
At this time I find it important to remind you that School Days initially masquerades as a normal harem show where a “love triangle” like this is not uncommon. However, establishing a couple so early on in a series centered on romance is almost unheard of when it comes to anime.
As a result, this makes the first episode evocative for these reasons, even if the rest of it doesn’t really seem like anything special. It again goes back to how the show gains depth by looking back on things, because this structure is largely used to capitalize on the fact that you don’t have all the information upfront.
Unfortunately, this is not without its downsides. It can feel like, especially in early episodes, only these big events at the end of each episode truly matter when it comes to the plot. Though, this misses the point. Without this buildup, the future payoffs would lack any impact at all. Furthermore, these seemingly dull moments gain meaning as the series progresses.
School Days is a show that wants to ground itself in the plausible. Its story could happen, and while things are certainly dramatized and exaggerated to extremes for the sake of entertainment, it never really leaves that realm. For something like this, you can’t go 0 to 100 right away.
Other shows, such as Domestic Girlfriend are able to get away with a more break-neck pace because it throws out the pretense of telling a grounded narrative fairly early on. It’s one of the things that holds that show back for me as opposed to this series.
Changing The Script
When it came to adapting School Days to anime, some decisions had to be made. While the game would allow for a more straightforward harem story to be told, this was a tired idea. Even with the “innovation” of allowing for a mutually agreed upon polygamous relationship would not satiate fans of either the game, or the genre. It needed to do something different.
In part, this was likely a contributing factor when it came to how the show looked and sounded. As we’ve seen, it’s not exactly noteworthy outside of context. Then there is the fact that this was to be a known visual novel adaptation, an adaptation of a hentai game to be exact. While there are some well-respected visual novel adaptations, they tended to have a certain look and feel that also avoided a lot of things due to restrictions when it came to what could air on TV.
So what was School Days to ultimately do? The answer was to focus on these two elements:
- The commentary on other harem anime and other visual novel adaptations
- Focusing on the most notable element of the visual novel itself: the endings
Furthermore, the anime also opted to include a fair amount of risque imagery and ideas. These were censored for broadcasting purposes (later uncensored for home release), but just barely, often not even impacting the scene in any meaningful way. In short, this anime got away with a lot of things that wouldn’t be uncommon in live-action stuff you see today in the West, but was pushing the envelope at the time, particularly when it came to animation.
Rather than focus on the most popular route, a common tactic for visual novel adaptations, placing minor emphasis on the other options for short arcs before climatically ending with the most popular pairing; School Days elected to do something fairly unique.
By taking the most notable endings, the bad ones if you recall, the show sowed a tale about horrible people doing increasingly horrible things. However, it didn’t want to reveal that to audiences right away, instead, it chose to pretend to be the more traditional adaptation with a few minor wrenches early on.
We’ve talked about some of them already when it came to the forming of the established couple in the first episode, which would normally occur at the end of the series. Sekai’s sudden kiss is certainly a surprise, but this will-they-won’t-they indecision is not uncommon in series like this. That said, these things should tip the viewer off, things aren’t quite right.
To avoid spoilers, I’m not going to really dig much more deeply into this particular topic, but I think you can easily gleam how this is interesting from what we’ve discussed so far. Still, there is one thing involving the ending I want to mention but I promise to keep it spoiler-free.
The biggest change to the script came to the finale for School Days, and it’s a change that I would go as far as to call brilliant. It’s left ambiguous. This isn’t to say that the show does not have a conclusion, you get your promised image of two lovers romantically sailing off into the sunset, but certain aspects of this finale are intentionally presented in a way as to leave doubt in the viewer.
I can’t really get further into it without fully ruining the show for folks who haven’t seen it, which would be criminal really, this is best viewed as blindly as possible. Those who have seen it though, you know exactly what I’m talking about, and I’m sure you’d agree even if it isn’t something you initially noticed.
Human Flaws & Why This May Not be for You
At the start of all this, the characters in School Days aren’t bad people. It takes time for all of the characters to sink to the lows that they ultimately end up reaching, but the road there is paved with human mistake after human mistake. This is a cautionary tale about how anybody has the potential to do some pretty messed up stuff. As a result, the show is mean-spirited, violent, and gratuitous in its depictions to the point where it would not be wrong to call them masturbatory in nature. Certainly a bleak outlook on human nature, but one that’s worthy of exploration.
To better explain what I mean, let’s look at the three main characters: Makoto, Kotonoha, and Sekai. While the rest of the cast are just as bad, if not worse in some cases, talking about those examples requires me to delve far deeper into the series than this article is really meant to as it would spoil every little detail of the series, which defeats the purpose of this writing in this specific case.
Makoto’s biggest sin in School Days is his inability to make a choice. He doesn’t want to hurt anybody, but in doing so, he ends up hurting everybody, and ultimately, paying a large price for it by the end of the series. His indecision is caused by a combination of factors such as Sekai showing interest in him, things not going as expected with Kotonoha right away, and Makoto’s own over-eagerness and sexual aggression.
His conflicted nature isn’t surprising or even difficult to see. Even as he continues to later make increasingly poor decisions, it is never hard to see why he is making them. They are certain to leave folks frustrated, and even hating Makoto, but that’s also the point.
Still I can’t help but feel a sense of irony in this response. While it’s totally fair to feel hatred towards this character, this has certainly lead to the reputation that School Days has today. By basing your thoughts by the immediate emotion reaction and impulse, you are ultimately doing what the show condemns through Makoto, who acts in the same way.
While Makoto never acts in a way that a real person couldn’t, he is the most exaggerated of the cast. That’s why I say it’s fair for folks to have such visceral reactions to all the things he ends up doing. They truly are awful. Yet, the series is out to make a point and comment on the absurdity of pursuing a harem in real life and trying to avoid the consequences that result in doing so. Though he acts out of indecision, that too is a choice that he must live with.
Naturally, the show does harshly condemn Makoto for his actions. He does realize what he wants and makes a real choice, but by then it is just too late. School Days does not reward him for making the “right” choice, which results in a cathartic conclusion, but it does ask for you to sympathize with his position, which can be difficult for many.
Ultimately, Makoto is a cautionary character that warns the viewer of the danger of being so passive in one’s own life. The additional commentary on the more meta elements of the genre is an added bonus, a cherry on top if you will. His character excels at drawing out the message from the viewer’s emotions but at the cost of having a protagonist you won’t be rooting for.
Sekai differs from Makoto in that she is not honest with her own feelings. This acts as a catalyst for all of the events in the series. While she is not the only one at fault, the other characters do plenty on their own, she often encourages or exasperates situations that lead to further issues.
As a result she avoids responsibility for her actions the most out of any cast member (yes, even Makoto). You can see this with her constant use of language such as “I suppose it can’t be helped” and “Makoto said it was ok”. It isn’t until Kotonoha, and the show itself, forces her to confront this dishonesty that she eventually sees how far her deceit truly went, even going as so far as to betray best friend.
In the end, she does act on this revelation, but it is an action she immediately regrets. She is equally unrewarded for figuring out what she wanted too late by School Days. Had she simply been honest at the start of everything, the series would have likely had a much more positive outcome, something the show explicitly tells you via narration during the final moments.
Still it can be hard for people to identify their own feelings, so her position is sympathetic. Her actions are also easily understood from the outside, but equally they are just as much put to shame as well. However, Sekai escapes the reactions that Makoto draws out from people, and that is likely a result of a combination of a few factors. One, much of her story is purposefully obfuscated from the viewer until the end. Two, she isn’t the main character. Finally, three, her actions are a lot less frequent and extreme in comparison to Makoto’s.
That leaves us with Kotonoha who is the symbol of purity in the show. She is meant to suffer and take on the consequences that the other two characters create. As a result, it isn’t hard to feel sorry for her. However, School Days places deserved blame onto her as well.
Kotonoha’s flaw is that she has undying loyalty. She does everything for Makoto’s sake, even when she has seen that he does not deserve it. This causes her to spiral and suffer a lot throughout the entire series. You are likely to feel she doesn’t deserve this and that it is difficult to watch, but the anime would disagree.
When it comes to how Kotonoha views the world, it’s almost like a fairy tale. It’s naive and childish. She’s timid and lacks self-confidence. Eventually she does develop more confidence, and even grows the most out of all the cast, but she never abandons her optimism that things will idyllically work out in the end.
School Days is constantly asking you to doubt what Kotonoha says, shows her as pathetic, and ultimately questions why you would hope for things to work out for her. Due to her inability to confront Makoto and resolve their issues, things only become worse for her until they reach their breaking point.
As a result, the show is a lot of suffering, frustration, and unease. The anime shows you the darkest parts of humanity without letting up, sinking deeper and deeper until things ultimately come to a head. Which is why School Days may not be for you, and that’s ok.
Is School Days The Worst Anime Ever Made?
In the end, this is only a question that you can answer for yourself. Public consensus would have you believe that this show is without merit, that it doesn’t explore or represent something larger than itself, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. While I can’t claim that School Days will be an enjoyable experience, it likely won’t be, I can say that it is a valuable one.
Sadly no official trailer exists for this so you’ll have to settle for the OP
By going against the grain of what the community considers “good” or “bad”, you are able to better understand your own tastes. You’ll also find way more interesting anime by doing this, which can lead to discovering new favorites. Had I listened to all the haters, I would have missed out on a series I genuinely love. So all I ask is that you give School Days a genuine chance if anything I said here sounded even remotely good to you. Who knows, you may actually like it.
There’s a lot I didn’t get to touch here but did I convince you to watch School Days? Perhaps you’ve already seen it even? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments. If you enjoyed my article please consider a donation via Ko-fi or becoming a Patron by pressing the buttons below. Thank you for giving this a read and hope to see you again soon!